You tell us: Do audiobooks count as reading a book?

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Recently I was in a conversation with an author who was saying she had a friend who didn’t read, but instead listened to audiobooks because the friend had a long drive to commute to work each day and this was the only free time for “reading”. The author felt that this was, in some way, not really reading a book and didn’t “count” or mean her friend had actually read it. She expressed the feeling that it felt a little bit like cheating because it wasn’t as if the friend were reading the book. I should note that she wasn’t trying to be punitive or deliberately exclusionary in her thought pattern, and in fact she said she couldn’t even put into words the exact reason for it, but this was simply a gut feeling she had.

I hadn’t given much thought on my own views on this, until our conversation, but once I did, I realized that I add the audiobooks I’ve listened to, to my Goodreads account just as if I’d read them. I don’t separate out in my head that I’ve read 300 books in a year, but also listened to ten. Instead, to me it’s 310 books read. I argued to the author that people listening to audiobooks are absorbing the exact same content as someone reading the words themselves (assuming they’re not listening to an abridged version) and that the auditory nature of taking in the words doesn’t make it any less impactful than if they’d read them. I also pointed out that there are a number of people for whom audiobooks are the only form of reading, for any number of reasons (vision disabilities, inability to hold books/turn pages, lack of time, as in her friend’s case, or many other reasons–for instance my mother-in-law gets severe vertigo trying to read, so can only use audiobooks) and I would never take away from them the label of “reader” simply because they’re not reading it themselves.

On the other hand, I recognize that if we argue semantics, the word reader does have a very specific definition of “one who reads” with reads being defined as “to look at and understand words” but in the argument of semantics, I’d also say that our visceral understanding of readers is often much greater than just the limiting definition. I think, if you’re consuming a book, whether by audiobook, by reading, or by having it read to you via a digital device/computer, then you’re a reader, even if you’re interacting with the book differently. I’d argue that even those of us who read visually a book all still interact differently with it.

But you tell us: is someone who listens to audiobooks a “reader”. Can you say you’ve “read” a book if you listened to the audiobook version?

Comments

  1. I read books on paper, on my Kindle, and by listening to them. My daily walks to and from work are a perfect time to take in an audiobook. I’ve been working my way through the classics – Wilkie Collins’ Woman in White, DH Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, etc. and I mark them on Goodreads as read. :)

  2. Although I don’t enjoy listening to books, I do count it as reading. My husband reads a lot of audiobooks when riding his bike and exercising. If it weren’t for audiobooks, he would miss out on a lot of good books. He’s planning on listening to my book instead of reading it when it comes out. I’m great with that.

  3. For me, audio is as much reading as visual. I sometimes get more out of audio because I can’t skim when I see huge chunks of description. I have some books that I own the paper, Kindle, & audio versions and ‘read’ from all three depending on what else I’m doing.
    Audio – even the robotty computer reader – has quadrupled my reading time, at least. I ‘read’ while gardening, knitting/crocheting, cooking,in the pool, on the lawnmower, driving – almost any activity that I can do without thinking too hard about it has now become reading time. That means I get to read a lot more for pleasure instead of just what I have to for work or study. No matter how the info gets into my head, it counts.

  4. Sure it counts! I used to do this all the time when I had a long commute. I actually “read” more at the time. Audio books are also great for while you’re cleaning.

  5. I add them to my Goodreads page too because I am reading them. It takes skill and retraining of the brain to focus on an audiobook while driving, cooking, exercising, knitting, cleaning the house or picking up dog poo. Not everyone can do it. Honestly, I think it’s almost harder than reading a paperback because when I’m reading a pb I am only focusing on doing that. My husband, who barely reads 2 books a years, says I am cheating when I count my audiobooks as books I’ve read. It is the only thing we passionately argue about. He will never understand my side and I’ll never understand his. But there are much worse things we could be arguing about ;)

  6. It definitely counts. If a mother reads a book to their child, doesn’t that count as the child having read the book? It’s the same principal. Why is it that some people can be so passionate about reading out loud to children, but turn negative if an adult wants to be read to?

  7. I absolutely think that listening to a book is the same as reading it…actually, I get much more out of listening to it than I do if I were to sit down with a paper/e-copy, since I’m a terrible skimmer. Listening slows things down, and a lot more of the subtext is revealed to me.

    Of the 200 books a year I go through, I’m going to say that *maybe* 20 of them are in paper or ebook format. Plus, I have the same heated discussions about what was good or bad about the book with someone who’s read it in paper.

    I think saying someone who listens isn’t a reader is the same as saying someone who uses an ereader isn’t a reader–just because it’s not in the traditional paper format!

  8. Once you’ve established the ability to read (literacy), I think listening to an audio book counts, as long as it’s the full version and not the abbreviated version. You can hear the language of the story. Some of us spend a great deal of time in front of computers reading for work or pleasure. We’re strongly visual. In that regard, listening to a story might stimulate the brain in new and different ways, making the experience of story a more pleasurable one.

  9. It totally counts. It’s not like seeing a movie and claiming to have read the book — it’s the same content, just delivered differently. It’s like Kindle versus paper, in my opinion. Still the same book, just takes up less space.

  10. Audio books definitely count! Could it be the technology that makes your author friend feel that listening to an audiobook is cheating, since there’s such a clear distinction now between books and newer forms of entertainment like TV and movies? Because before the invention of audio recording, families commonly read aloud to one another in the evenings.

    (I’m so glad you’re talking about audiobooks, because I just found out this morning that my new release, Ruined by Rumor, also came out today on audible.com. The narrator, Rosalyn Landor, is a British actress, and I’m tickled to death that I can now hear my regency characters speak with English accents.)

  11. I’m going to be a voice of dissent… sort of.

    To me, an audio book is not *the same* as reading the printed word. (I don’t count a child being read to as that child reading a book either though.) In my mind, both are “being read *to*”.

    However, I don’t think that means that it doesn’t “count.” The contents of the pages and the actual words written are still absorbed. In my mind, it’s just a much more passive activity than physically reading the words themselves.

    Having said that, I think it is more active than watching even the most faithful film version of a book. So to me it’s kind of a middle-ground–not the same, but close.

  12. My husband certainly thinks they do. He listens to a couple of audio books a week in his car as he travels a lot. If not for audio books he wouldn’t have time for fiction.

  13. YES!!

    Not only YES, but H$%% YES. It counts.

    As a matter of fact, audio for me allows certain books to be MUCH MORE enjoyable.

    Ask your author to listen to the “Study” series by Maria V. Snyder and read by Gabra Zackman.

    Then the Sophie Katz series by Kyra Davis, all but the 1st read by Gabra Zackman.

    Then the Harry Potter series, read by Jim Dale (although I hear that the Stephen Frye version in the UK is just as good).

    Then the Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger, read by Emily Grey.

    Then the Southern Vampire Mysteries (Sookie Stackhouse) read by Johanna Parker.

    The Urban Shaman series by C.E. Murphy, read by oh, sorry, Gabra again. :-)

    The Iron Fey series by Julia Kagawa read by Khristine Hvam.

    If she listens to even just a few of the books I’ve mentioned and thinks that the reading experience wasn’t ENHANCED by the fantastic audio reader, then I just say that her brain must be wired differently b/c for me the well-read audiobooks put more of a picture in my head than when I read with my eyes.

    Am I passionate about my audiobooks? Ummm, yeah. :-)

    Once we get your author hooked on audio, she’ll never look back . . .

    Penn

  14. Seleste,

    I get just as absorbed in my audiobooks as the printed or ebooks. I can’t even sort my mail and listen at the same time. I do know people who listen and work, but my brain dedicates itself to the story. So for me, well, it’s just as active as reading with my eyes.

    Penn

  15. I have to say, yes, it counts. I hadn’t listened to any audio books before I learned I’d be narrating my book, Danger Zone, and after listening to SEP’s Natural Born Charmer, I was hooked. I’d read the book, but the audio was amazing. (I learned a ton from it, too.) The narrator absolutely sucked me in just as the book did years ago. It’s the same material, your brain is just receiving it a different way. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t count.

  16. It counts. Definitely.

    Although I have to say that for me, I don’t do it unless I have to, simply because it takes so long. I’m a fast reader, and you can’t read a book aloud fast.

  17. Rowan,

    That’s why I didn’t do audiobooks for the longest time (I can read with my eyes 2-3 times faster than in audio). But I spend so much time in the car that I started listening there, and then I started listening when I’m doing boring things like cleaning or painting (walls – I am sooo not an artist) or whatever. And some of the readers really make the book come to life in a way that my brain wouldn’t if I were reading it to myself.

    Penn

  18. I respect audiobooks, and I don’t have a problem with the notion of being “read to” and absorbing information, but I’m not sure how I count them when it comes to “reading.” I think for me it’s a matter of–as someone previously mentioned–already knowing how to read capably and easily. That said, I tend to have more respect for people who listen to a lot of audiobooks but also read a lot than people who don’t read books at all, just listen to them. I think it’s because I view it as a “lazy” thing (unless you’re doing it on your commute, where I think it’s awesome), and it’s easy to tune out; yes when you read you can skim, but people like my father in law have the TV on all the time in the background, but don’t really pay attention. I can see that happening with an audiobook too.

    I should also point out that, having only recently aquired a Kindle, I’m still not all the way there on e-books being “real” books. Logically I know they are, but as convenient and light and nice as the Kindle is, I think I will always love the feeling of turning pages and holding a book (except in bed–I love the Kindle for reading in bed!). To me, turning the pages of a book is an integral part of reading.

  19. While I agree reading an audiobook isn’t the same as reading print, I think it still counts as reading. There are books I’d never read in print but will happily listen to on audio and vice versa. For long non-fiction — “The Emperor of All Maladies” comes to mind, I find audio much better. For others, particularly books with many points of view, I find reading print more enjoyable.

    Also, as a librarian who selects materials for more than 100 homebound patrons each month, I can tell you that for many of them, audio is their only option. As eyesight and hand strength wanes, the interest in reading can remain high, and audiobooks help fill that need. For these folks (and myself!), I’m grateful that audio and large print books have come so far, with more being simultaneously released with the first printing of books.

  20. While I usually distinguish in my language whether I’ve consumed a book in audio or word form (“Oh, I listened to that and it was great!” versus “I read that book last week”) in my mind it’s absolutely still reading the book and it goes in my Goodreads account just like all the other books I’ve devoured.

    We need to get past this idea that “reading” is the deciphering of words into understandable thoughts and ideas and think of reading a book in the end result. However a book is consumed, the reader has knowledge he or she didn’t previously possess and, more importantly, has hopefully come away from digesting that book a different person based on whatever the story’s message ultimately was. My mother might have read me Winnie the Pooh when I was young, but I still consider it a book I have read. Does the fact that she vocalized the words and made the story come alive for a pre-reader make Pooh’s adventure less for me than when I finally read the book myself? No.

    Audiobooks totally count. It’s time we start treating them that way! Thanks for the thought-provoking discussion, Angela. :-)

  21. Imagine if we applied the same scrutiny to writing.

    “Have you read the latest novel written by Stephen King?”

    “Hold up. Did he actually write it? In his own handwriting? Or did he type it on a keyboard?”

    “Beats me. For all I know he could have dictated it to a scribe. Does it matter?”

    “I don’t think that really counts as writing. Do you?”

  22. I understand the difference between listening and reading as tasks but quite frankly I don’t see difference when I read a book or listen to an audiobook.
    I am not sure if all people who read experiance this but I’m sure that many do:
    When reading text from a book I do hear my own voice reading it.

    …saying that how is it difference from listening to someone’s voice reading it? It ends up as “listening” weather it’s using actual sounds or your mind’s voice.
    I still listen to it.

    On that note I have to say that reading books for me is horrible because I cannot focus on many books because of the simple fact that my eyes get tired quickly. I do prefer audiobooks in that regard and findmyself enjoying a good deal of audiobook however not all of them. Some of books are simply not suited for an audiobook and some narrators/speakers are not suited to read for an audiobook.

    So in my case I would argue that I did not read any book but listened to many books and audiobooks.

    Maybe I’m alone in my opinion/experiance but atleast I know what I think.

    P.S Sorry for my English. I’m not native speaker and still learning.

  23. …saying that how is it different from listening to someone’s voice reading it? It ends up as “listening” whether it’s using actual sounds or your mind’s voice.
    I still listen to it.

  24. I think the technical distinction is entirely irrelevant. Being an author, I would think this woman would understand that the point is to EXPERIENCE the story; to get sucked into the plot and to connect with the characters. I’d say about 25% of the books I’ve “read” in my lifetime were audio books. I would probably listen to more if the audio book format were available in books I’ve selected. Maybe it’s just me, but I think it’s quite snobbish of this author to completely discredit the audio book format. I can’t help but think of people with disabilities that prevent them from reading. Do you think this author would have the gall to tell my legally blind grandfather that the hundreds of audiobooks he’s listened to over the years don’t really “count?” Could she even say that to him without sounding pretentious?

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